An ancient Chinese curse is purported to translate to “ May you live in interesting times.” For those who may lack a feel for irony, you can now see clearly why the phrase is a curse. We are certainly living in interesting times. Some would say that we have never been as divided as a nation. Those who fought and died in the Civil War might beg to differ. Nevertheless, it does feel like there are two disparate Americas with a widening gap that we may never be able to shrink. Maybe the quest for an America where we have a shared set of values, and have honest disagreements about how to achieve and maintain them, is an unattainable goal.
The question we must ask ourselves is if we ever had a shared set of values. When we talk about American values some the words we have used throughout our history are equality, freedom, liberty and opportunity. The conception is that these words have a common definition for all Americans. Many believe that there is a common path to achieving these ideals.
There is a great deal of vocal opposition as well as blind or targeted support surrounding our President. For a moment dig deeper than the childish and mean-spirited rhetoric and also focus on the ideas, philosophy and policies that are promulgated by the current administration.
The administration has declared war on immigrants that do not look like the majority of Americans. They are fond of saying that they want immigrants as long as they enter the country legally. It is sometimes to our benefit that the President lacks a filter because he communicates his true feelings and beliefs, which in this case indicate that he is fine with immigrants who are not from “shithole” countries. In other words, white immigrants.
He conveniently forgets or ignores the laws that allow immigrants seeking asylum to enter the country and request asylum. The process does not require them to request this status before they enter. He also ignores the fact that the number of illegal entries had been dropping steadily for a number of years with a recent spike due to the worsening political and economic situation in many Central American countries which can be deadly for many.
Democrats have been painted as supporting open borders, which is simply not true. Democrats have argued for a path to citizenship for those undocumented immigrants already in the country, the vast majority of whom are contributing to the country and the economy. It is a fact that if we eliminated all of the migrant farm workers who work very hard picking and packing our fruits and vegetables, the cost of our produce would skyrocket. If you make more than 200,000 dollars a year, this rise in cost would be a minor annoyance. If you are a middle-class family struggling to make ends meet, the increased cost might mean an inability to provide your family with healthy food.
Democrats also have argued for providing fair hearings for those who are seeking asylum from central American and middle eastern countries where they face civil war, torture and death in many cases. Whatever happened to, “Give us your tired, your weak, yearning to be free”. It is ironic that many of those who fear immigration and immigrants will be the first to hold up symbols like the Statue of Liberty and tout patriotism without regard to the ideals the symbol actually portrays.
The reasons many Americans support the President and his stance on immigration are attitudes and beliefs regarding people that are different from them. The rhetoric has created a vision of a hoard of MS13 and middle eastern terrorists entering the country and pillaging the country-side. The facts do not support this vision. The facts tell us that a very small percentage of violent crime in this country is perpetrated by illegal immigrants. The vast majority of violent crime is committed by American citizens of all colors, many of whom are poor and lack opportunities. A fair amount of violent crime is also committed by those who hate people who are different. Too often violent crime is committed by those who have mental illness that goes untreated. It is easier to vilify a group for political gain than it is to fix the real problems.
It is obvious to anyone who cares to pay attention that white supremacists have been emboldened in the current political atmosphere. To a lesser degree, but as impactful, is the effect on voters who would not be considered white supremacist but hold opinions about people of color that lead them to support policies that lessen their potential power.
The administration has also taken the stance that global warming and the destruction of the environment is a hoax. There has been a systematic dismantling of environmental regulations and strategies including those promoting the use of alternative energy sources. The effort has moved from a complete denial of global warming and a drastically changing environment, to a begrudging acknowledgement of a change accompanied by the argument that this is just the natural cycle of the earth and humans have no effect on these natural cycles.
The removal of regulations meant to protect the environment is an unvarnished attempt to save corporations from the cost of meeting the regulations and to sell our health and safety to the highest bidder. Energy companies have been given the green light to drill and explore not only in regions that have experienced catastrophic environmental accidents such as the Gulf of Mexico, but intrusion into areas that have been preserved as the best examples of the beauty and geographical wonder in our country such as our national parks and monuments and remote areas in Alaska. All of our natural resources are fair game for the highest bidder despite the potential impact.
The robust economy and the recent tax breaks seem to be important arguments for supporting the current administration. It is understandable how 1,200 dollars a year to a middle-class family is welcome and important. It is a great appetizer that could take the attention away from the main course which is providing very healthy tax breaks for the wealthiest among us who can easily live extravagant lifestyles without the assistance of the American government. It will incentivize these individuals to create jobs. That is a popular myth that did not prove true during Ronald Reagan’s administration or George W. Bush’s administration. Trickle-down economics benefits the wealthy and has no appreciable benefit to the middle class either in job creation or increased wages. Ask the 14,000 workers at General Motors who will soon lose their jobs how that company’s windfall tax break helped them.
There has been an increase in jobs since the President took office and a small wage increase as well. That is tremendous. The truth is that those increases began as a result of the recovery after the 2007 crash. Those policies and strategies began with the Obama administration and Congress passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009. Some of the President’s efforts to bring business back to the US from cheaper foreign markets is to be applauded. The applause might be louder if the President himself did not have businesses abroad despite these efforts. It also remains to be seen what the far-reaching effects of the trade wars will have on American businesses and jobs. So far, the outlook does not appear positive. Farmers are worried how the tariffs will affect their ability to sell their products abroad. Although General Motors is essentially changing their business model resulting in the need to lay off thousands, they also lost a billion dollars to the increased cost for raw materials brought about by the tariffs.
The President also seems to hold the view that he is all-powerful and above the law. There are several examples of his understanding, or in many cases, his misunderstanding of the constitution and what it allows and does not allow in terms of executive power. It is not accidental that the President has appointed a Supreme Court Justice who has been clear in his opinion that the President and presidency are above the law and shielded from indictment under any circumstances. It is also not an accident that the President has ignored the normal succession alignment and leap-frogged over Rod Rosenstein to be the acting Attorney General and appointed Session’s administrative assistant Matt Whitaker. Whitaker has been open and vocal about his disdain for the Mueller investigation and is clearly in place to block the findings. It is also outrageous that a man who was actively involved in fraud, helping a company of which he is board member and consultant, bilk thousands of people out of millions of dollars, is now the chief law enforcement officer in our country. It is such a transparent attempt to thwart the Mueller investigation that it would be laughable if it were not so outrageous.
Connected to the investigation is the President’s relationship with one of our oldest enemies and the chief enemy of the free world – Russia. The President has gone out of his way to disenfranchise our long-standing allies while virtually ignoring the intrusion of Russia in our elections and their clear attempt at annexation in Crimea and other parts of the former Soviet bloc. Some have argued that the President has actually committed treason in his repudiation of our own intelligence agencies and his public support for Vladimir Putin’s denials. The same people who have been taught to use the word socialism as being synonymous with communism seem fine with the fact that Donald Trump is protecting his business interests in Russia and possibly protecting other secrets held by the chief communist while they revile Bernie Sanders and others because they hold socialist ideas.
I find it interesting that many have bemoaned Colin Kaepernick and his stance, or lack of stance, for equality in which many NFL players have participated. He and others have been painted as anti-American and showing disrespect for our military. Despite the fact that the protesters have said it is not a protest against the military, but a cry for equal treatment, some still see it as unpatriotic. The flag represents ideas that are more fundamental than just the military. It represents those aforementioned ideals of equality, liberty, and justice. The Pledge of Allegiance, which is often directed to our flag, says “with liberty and justice for all”. Our history clearly indicates that those ideals have not been achieved. There has not been liberty and justice for all. That is what the kneeling NFL players are protesting – not the military. Those who still believe that these players are unpatriotic are entitled to that view. These same people will support a President who openly denigrates the heroes in the FBI, CIA and NSA who keep us safe from foreign intrusion while he treasonously sides with our stated enemy. These same people are offended and defensive when some police officers are accused of racism and profiling, but will not stand up to defend the nation’s police force, the FBI.
Despite the facts as they exist, there is still some forty percent of the electorate that support the President and his policies. There seems to be a perception that Donald Trump supports the “little guy”, the “everyday Joe”. This is a puzzling notion. First and foremost, Donald Trump supports Donald Trump and his own business interests. How is the President allowed to hold the office of the presidency while still openly doing business with other countries? It has always been the expectation and accepted practice that one’s business interests and fortune be placed in a blind trust during the term of office. Donald Trump somehow gets a pass by his supporters. Why? Because he is seen as protecting them from the hoard of immigrants and he will somehow protect their financial interests.
Many people are angry because they feel that others are getting something for nothing and money and opportunity is being ripped from them to benefit those who have not earned it. They look down on people who are poor and uneducated and hold to the idea of these people pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. Many of these people have worked hard to gain middle class status and feel like others are being given something that they have not worked for.
These same people are angry about efforts to level the playing field for those who have systematically been oppressed and have been banned from opportunities. They see quotas for college admission and financial aid as unearned gifts keeping more qualified whites from the same benefits. They see racial and ethnic quotas for promotions in civil service jobs as unfair. Why don’t these people just work hard and compete fairly for these opportunities? It is reverse discrimination. Donald Trump and his rhetoric and policies are the port in the storm. He will save them from the unfairness and apparent discrimination against whites – especially white males. He will protect their financial well-being and provide opportunities for them to prosper.
The facts may not support the feelings and aspirations of the many who support President Trump. Nor will an understanding of our history and why that history supports and begs for an attempt to rectify the discrimination and injustice that has been perpetrated against people of color and native Americans pre-dating the United States of America. That knowledge will not likely assuage their anger, fears and sense of entitlement.
Many will disparage poor people of color and blame them for much of what surrounds them and their communities on a daily basis. They will blame them for the level of crime and their need to be supported by the government. This blame and admonishment ignores the fact that the conditions in which many live, the lack of educational progress, and persistent poverty level, are a direct result of policies and practices perpetrated by all levels of government since before the country was formed. African-Americans and other ethnic minorities have been systematically and illegally discriminated against in housing, jobs and education since before the founding fathers framed the constitution. It began with hundreds of years of enslavement of African-Americans and the systematic genocide of native Americans and the theft of their lands.
Due to the horrors of slavery and the slave trade, African-Americans were the persecuted foundation of the tremendous wealth enjoyed by many Southern plantation owners and the single-most important resource in a very healthy Southern economy. Despite being the reason for great wealth and prosperity, African-Americans have be barred from any real economic progress and continue to suffer the consequences of that persistent discrimination that manifests itself in several ways including economically, educationally, psychologically and socially.
A more detailed examination of the systematic discrimination and repression of people of color, and the effects that this discrimination has had on a whole group of Americans can be found in, The Color of Law – A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, written by Richard Rothstein. Rothstein provides a detailed account of the systematic and pervasive strategies perpetrated by government officials and judges at all levels to essentially ignore the 14th amendment and assure the segregation of African-Americans, as well as barring them from fair and equal access to housing, jobs, quality education and many other resources. Despite the government’s efforts to separate them and bar access to equal opportunity, people of color have made remarkable progress and contributions to all facets of American life including fighting and dying for a country that did not support them and purposefully denied them access to liberty, freedom, equality and opportunity, those key ideas that are supposed to be our shared values. Given the tremendous and seemingly insurmountable obstacles placed in their way, a remarkable number of people of color, and specifically African-Americans, have accomplished a great deal and led their families on the climb out of poverty and up the economic ladder.
Given this systematic discrimination, and its long-lasting and devastating effects, it has been both appropriate and necessary that we provide enhanced opportunities like affirmative action and other quota programs to help jumpstart the climb to real equality. For those who still feel that they should not have to “suffer” for the crimes of the past, Rothstein has a great retort. He states, “Your ancestors were not here in 1776, but you still eat hot dogs on the 4th of July don’t you?” And for those who object to remedial efforts simply because they believe people of color are inferior and not worthy, there is no cure for their ignorance or any explanation that will appease them or change their mind.
Earlier some key terms and ideas were offered that should unite us a Americans. Liberty is one of those terms. Liberty clearly means very different things to different people. For those who believe that Donald Trump is concerned about the liberty of the average American, you could not be more wrong. The liberty that Donald Trump is concerned with is economic liberty. The concept of economic liberty is embedded in a struggle for control of the country that has been fought over and over again since the creation of the republic. The struggle concerns who should have control of the country.
It began with the struggle between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson during the initial development of our country. Hamilton pushed for a strong federal government and the establishment of a national bank while Jefferson was a proponent of maintaining state’s rights. It came to a head again in the literal battle over slavery and the rights of the southern states to control their own economic and social destiny. It became about protecting personal property, even if the personal property was human beings. It also became a major focal point at the turn of the century with the efforts of Theodore Roosevelt and the progressives to control the power of the major trusts such as Standard Oil and US Steel. The industrial revolution, the ascent of the “robber barons”, and the establishment of labor unions, created a chasm between the extreme wealth and control of the industrialists and the common workers who toiled daily in dangerous situations while living in impoverished conditions.
In Nancy MacLean’s recent book, Democracy in Chains; The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, she unveils the most recent battle for control of the country between those who believe in economic liberty and unrestrained capitalism, and those who believe that our democracy should be in the hands of the people. This latest movement is embedded in a long-developing philosophy that is based on the concept of the free economic liberty. Those who espouse the free market believe that the federal government should provide for the defense of the country and not much else.
Maclean lays out strategic efforts that harken back to the “Robber Barons” and their control of the country. She details the long-time efforts of Nobel Prize winning economist James Buchanan to secretly wage a campaign to promulgate the ideas of a political economy. The foundation of the movement really began as an adverse reaction to Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal polices mainly Social Security. The fundamental belief and thought process of the political economy or economic libertarians is that the monied property owners should not have to pay for those who cannot fend for themselves. The premise is that each individual has an equal opportunity to work hard and enrich themselves negating the need to heavily tax the wealthy and alleviating any responsibility to assist those who have not achieved an equal economic or social status.
The major flaw in this argument is that it ignores the essential role of the worker in helping the wealthy to attain that status, and in a Keynesian notion, the more that you compensate workers for their role in the production of wealth, the more disposable income the masses have to pour back into the economy. Interestingly enough, the wealthy have been trying to sell the concept of trickle-down economics which has just blown up deficits while all the time they should have been looking at a percolate-up theory.
Nancy Maclean clearly and skillfully traces the movement for economic liberty from its origins with John C Calhoun in the antebellum South, through economist James Buchanan in Virginia in direct response to Brown vs. Education in 1956, to the current political environment and the leader and prime funder of the movement, Charles Koch.
Calhoun was a central figure in the effort to protect the institution of slavery as the prime driver of the Southern economy. He fought strenuously in the Senate arguing for state’s rights and against the right of the Federal government to dictate personal property rights to the states. We all know what the eventual outcome was of that dispute.
The Great Depression and the resulting New Deal sparked a revival of the idea that the federal government should not be responsible to take care of individuals. Those opposed to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid believed that if individuals did not make the effort to save for their own well-being they should live with the consequences of their inaction or lack of effort. The fact that African-Americans and other minorities were systematically barred from equal access to jobs, housing and education was not a factor in their lack of effort to ensure their own well-being apparently.
Forces were relatively active in making the argument against federal control. Those forces found a touchstone in Virginia with the Brown vs Board of Education decision. The suit emanated from a challenge in Virginia by African-American students to achieve equal educational resources and opportunities. Many people in the heavily segregated South saw the Brown decision as an assault on their way of life. Actually, segregation existed in all of the country at the time. The only difference is that it was veiled elsewhere by manipulating housing availability.
James Buchanan successfully convinced the University of Virginia to allow him to build a center to espouse the ideas of the political economy and economic liberty. Through his work at the center, and subsequent work at other universities, he began an effort to train budding economist and lawyers to adopt the philosophy of the political economy and covertly infiltrate government at all levels to achieve their means.
The only thing that Buchanan and his minions lacked was real and unlimited funding. That was achieved when Charles Koch, who had been working toward the goals of economic liberty and a control of the country by a ruling class of propertied individuals, came in contact with the ideas and work of Buchanan. At first, Koch looked to the Libertarian Party to back politicians to promote the cause. He quickly learned that trusting politicians to do his bidding was a losing proposition. He was soon convinced by Buchanan and others that victory would not be found in changing the leaders that governed, but in changing the rules of governing as Nancy MacLean so eloquently spells out.
Koch followed Buchanan’s lead and soon exploded those efforts exponentially. He poured money into several entities chief among them the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, Citizens for a Sound Economy, and the functional arm of the revolution, the State Policy Network and American Legislative Exchange Council. The names all sound fundamentally American and pillars of democratic ideals. Nothing could be further from the truth. The goal is to ensure that America is ruled by the wealthy class. Their staunch belief is that the majority should not be able to dictate the future of America. The majority has not earned that right. The majority does not have the wealth; therefor, they should not have a say. The concept of one person – one vote is anathema to the aims of Koch and his like.
What are the goals of those who espouse economic freedom, chiefly Charles Koch and all of the efforts he funds? In order to roll back federal control and reduce the tax burden faced by the wealthy, efforts are focused on the alteration of the tax code to reduce tax burdens on business and wealthy individuals, constraint or elimination of workers unions, the elimination of environmental protections, the elimination of illegal immigration or the immigration of those who may need assistance or jobs of any kind, and the privatization of schools and education substituted by the institution a private school voucher system.
They are also helping to create model legislation especially at the state level that will cement the power in the wealthy class and eliminate efforts by the majority to have any voice in policies. And lastly, but certainly not least, is the elimination of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If there is nothing in this important list that concerns you greatly, congratulations. You are a rich white person who does not rely on a good paying job with good benefits, a retirement plan, clean water and air, or good public schools for your children.
So what is Koch doing to achieve the goals of economic freedom through the several funded entities with oddly democratic sounding names. The grass roots effort is to follow the lead of James Buchanan and create a covert army of economists, lawyers, judges and politicians who fight the battle through constant and consistent propaganda. It is not by accident that you hear Republican supporters and supporters of President Trump using similar language in their talking points. Immigrants are killing innocent Americans and taking our jobs. Those who are not aligned with their work and philosophies are socialists. Those who have not earned it should not be benefitting from the taxes and programs paid for by others. Washington is a swamp of special interests that needs to be drained. (Of course, Koch and his like gloss over the fact that if Washington is a swamp, Koch is the head alligator.) They have used junk science and industry-funded research to claim that climate change is a hoax meant to control business through regulations.
Early on the effort made an important alliance with the religious right by connecting with religious leaders like Jerry Falwell and others who have a vested interest in entrepreneurial religious activity. They create the idea that fundamentalist Christians are being “persecuted” in the present environment. They have made a connection to the right to life movement. For Christians, abortion is an issue of beliefs and values. For Koch and his army, abortion is an economic issue. The issue is not if you have an abortion, but who pays for it. Many fundamentalist Christians have made a conscious choice to overlook the un-Christian policies and actions of President Trump and Republicans as a means to a Christian goal. It should be made clear that the Christian goal of ending abortions is a respected goal based on real Christian beliefs. The question is whether the means to achieve the goal are worth the sacrifice of the soul.
Despite the goal of changing the rules of governing, not the politicians that govern, Koch leaves no stone unturned. If a Republican legislator at any level refuses to endorse the agenda, Koch pours enormous amounts of money into the primary runs of opponents who will support the agenda. Through this process he ensures that Republicans will support the agenda and vote the way they are supposed to. Dissention will not be tolerated. It is no surprise that prominent Republicans who have opposed Donald Trump and some of his actions, while opposing some of the goals of the economic libertarians at the same time, have seen the writing on the wall and have chosen not to seek re-election.
Once Koch has control of the legislators there are several rule changes or structural changes that make it very difficult to achieve an oppositional majority in Congress or in many state legislatures. To ensure consistent majority legislatures in many states, Republican controlled legislatures have engaged in gerrymandering districts to increase conservative, Republican representation that will support the agenda. There have also been voter suppression efforts in many states to decrease the number of poor and minority voters who traditionally vote for Democratic candidates.
These efforts are over and above the structures that the original framers built into the system that are near impossible to change. The first is the Senate itself. Originally this structure ensured that those with money and property, had control of the agenda. One example is Montana and California have equal voice in the Senate while Montana has a population of 1.06 million people and California has a population of 39 million people,. To be completely honest this was also to ensure that one state did not have power over other states at least in one chamber of Congress. That does not negate the other important reason of ensuring a control of the agenda by the wealthy land owners modeled after the House of Lords in the British Parliament.
The other structure and rule that provides control of the common voter is the Electoral College. The original framers did not trust the uneducated masses to choose leaders. They devised a way to protect the process from those who they felt could not make good decisions about leadership. Limitations of education and communication in the eighteenth century may have limited the ability of the common farmer or laborer to make an informed decision. Those conditions are no longer a reality. The necessity of the electoral college is highly questionable. It negates the concept of one person -one vote and dampens the voice of the true majority.
When Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency, he was not the candidate supported by Charles Koch or the Koch Foundation. He was not seen as a serious candidate. He was too much of a loose cannon. The plan changed when it became apparent that there was a base that were buying into the very propaganda and focal points that the Koch brothers and their syndicate were covertly using as the smoke screen to achieve power. Better yet, as Donald Trump spread his rhetoric, he did so in a way that the Koch brothers could not have purchased with all of their money. His bombastic theater drew all of the attention to his travelling road show and away from real efforts to undermine the process and create the environment for real change. He turned out to be the perfect person to create the bait and switch and energize Americans around the dog whistle issues that will move the real effort closer to reality.
It may be too late. The Supreme Court, that will ultimately rule on many of the changes, has been stacked. It is ironic that President Trump complained about Obama judges, when in reality there are far more Koch judges in place presently. If the common voters, who are middle class individuals with children in public schools, who also rely on a company pension or Social Security and Medicare, don’t become more active and recruit family, friends and neighbors to vote in all elections at every level, the wealthy in this country will strip us of our rights and security as well as real opportunities to progress socially and economically. We will no longer be able to create a better and more sustainable country and world for our children and grandchildren.
We are busy fighting each other while people like Charles Koch work behind the scenes to take control of the country. It is a well-worn cliché, but we really do have more in common than we are being led to believe. Common people are not each other’s enemy. The enemy is the structure of wealth individuals in this country buying power and using it to eliminate all of the social and governmental structures that we have built as a country that allow for individuals and families to make progress and lead safe and healthy lives. People who have less than us, and have been purposely kept from working toward a good life, are not our real enemies. They have been set up to look and feel like enemies. The real enemy are those who would pit us against each other for their own financial and social gain and the power to control our lives.
If socialism scares you for some reason, how does the possibility of an oligarchy, or even a fascist state sound? For those who think that the prospect of an American government that does not meet the needs or the demands of the majority, or take care of all its citizens is not a real possibility, there are several examples around the world that would argue otherwise. Wake up America.